Yet another drama caused by Shenzhou 9, spacecraft that is carrying out China’s first manned docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong 1 space lab module. Shenzhou 9 is important not only because it signifies a leap forward for China’s manned space program, but also because it takes the first Chinese woman astronaut Liu Yang, a 33-year-old air force pilot, into space. While Liu’s gender has made herself a talking point for waves of positive coverage on China’s space program, she also has become an easy target for those who try to attack the Chinese government on investing in fancy space programs (as opposite to in improving people’s lives). Journalist Cao Linhua of Nanfang People magazine and Liu Zuobao of Jiangnan News were among the many who told dirty jokes about Liu Yang, but one of them paid his price.
Liu Yang, China’s first woman astronaut
On June 12th, a few days before Shenzhou 9 was launched, Cao Linhua and Liu Zuobao posted two pretty lame jokes about Liu Yang on their Sina Weibo.
From Cao: “Two men and one woman in the space. What if she is found pregnant after going back? Is this also part of China’s spaceMAN program?
From Liu: “’Dad, why they want to send a woman astronaut into space?’ ‘Because milk products from Mengniu and Yili (two leading dairy product brands in China deep in food safety scandals) are no longer drinkable.’”
The jokes irritated netizens on Weibo big time. Most of them thought that while it’s ok to criticize the government on spending on “fancy and wasteful” space programs rather than on more pressing issues like education and healthcare, these two journalists crossed the line by attacking a female astronaut personally and insensitively making jokes about her gender.
Poll results from Sina Weibo showed that as high as 90% of netizens want the two journalists fired. Netizen 隔帘听雪 explained: “These are not simply jokes. As journalists, especially well-known journalists, their every word and action are under public scrutiny. So they should be watch their behaviors closely, otherwise how can they take up bigger social responsibilities? The shameless words from these two journalists are shocking.”
Well…someone has apparently heard netizens’ calls. Late night last night, Cao Linhua, one of the two journalists who is from Nanfang People, made the follow announcement:
“Apology: My recent inappropriate words have greatly hurt those who were involved. I hereby sincerely apologize. To show that I’m sorry, I resigned from my current company. Hope the persons involved and fellow netizens can forgive me. Cao Linhua.”
Maybe because Nanfang People is a much more prestigious magazine than Jiangnan News, the media that the other journalist Liu Zuobao works at, Cao received most of the criticism in this incidence. Now the only post left on Cao’s Weibo account was the apology. All others have been deleted by him.
Surprisingly, many of the 2000-something comments left to Cao’s apology thought that his joke wasn’t a big enough deal for him to resign. More interestingly, many labeled his resignation as an example of the lack of freedom of speech in China. It seems that all of the 10% who rated “Don’t agree” in the above poll came to leave comments to Cao’s apology and the 90% became the minority.